Key members ot a top U.S. policy-making body are urging President Carter to approve the sales of new American weaponry to Morocco to help King Hassan II fight insurgents who are waging a desert war for control of the disputed Wester Sahara.
According to administration sourcess, a Cabinet-level Policy Review Committee would up a session Tuesday sharply split over proposals to meet Hassan's request for armed OV10 Bronco reconnasissance planes and Cobra helicopter gunships to combat guerrillas of the Algerian-backed Polisario Front. The guerrilla have carried out several attacks in recent months against targets in Morocco.
The sources said however, that there was a consensus not to recommend sending U.S. experts to train Moroccans in counterinsurgency techniques, a proposal made in Washington as part of a list of options.
The policy debate basically revolves around the question of how far the United States should go in trying to lprop up Hassan, a pro-American monarch show damaging war with the Polisario guerrillas risks undermining him domestically and putting him on the path of the deposed shah of Iran.
Government sources said members of the policy committee-representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Council, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense and State departments -- were unable to agree on a single recommendation and are to present option papers to the president, who will decide the administration's policy on the issue. A decision to sell King Hassan the arms he wants could face objections in Congress, sources said.
If adopted, a policy to meet the king's requests would mard a departure by the United States from its carefully maintained neutrality in the dispute over the sparsely populated but mineral-rich Western Sahara.
In any case, recommendations at the meeting by representatives of the National Security Council, the Pentagon and the joint chiefs to sell Morooco weapons provides a key indication of administration leanings on an issue that poses a foreign policy dilemma and has created divisions within the government.
The State Department and its subsidiary body, the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, are reticent about the sales, the sources said. The sources said CIA's position tends to buttress arguments against the sales.
The proposed arms sales are intended to show support for a longtime ally and to demonstrate to other countries, notably Saudi Arabia, that the United States will stand by its friends, sources said.
On the other hand, the sales would risk damaging U.S. relations with Algeria, an important Opec member which supplies 9 percent of U.S. oil imports, the sources said. The sales also could alienate countries in the Organization of African Unity, which voted at a recent meeting in favor of self-determination for the Western Sahara despite Moroccan objections.
The policy dilemma is similar in some respects to that faced by the administration when another longtime U.S. friend, the shah of Iran, was fighting to stay in power last winter. Repeated statements of strong U.S. support for the Shah contributed to anti-American feeling in Iran and left Washington with little influence there when he was overthrown.
The administration faced a similar quandary when Sandinista guerrilla began to make gains against the Nicaraguan government of Anastasio Somoza. Some analysts believe Washington may run up against such dilemmas in other countries where the durability of pro-American leaders is in question, notably in Zaire and the Philippines and perhaps eventually in Saudi Arabia.
In the present policy debate, the CIA is understood to take the position that the new U.S. waponry would do King Hassan a little good, because his main military porblems cannot be solved by equipment. Fearing a coup attempt amid signs of increasing disaffection in the Moroccan military, the king has mired himself in a losing battle by limiting communications among his commanders and thus reducting flexibility in moving his forces, the sources said.
This also is understood to be the view of the State Department's African section.
National security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski and the State Department's Near East bureau are said to favor the sales to Morocco, emphasizing their alarm over Polisario guerrilla raids into Moroccan territory.
Currently the U.S. policy is to sell Morocco some weapons, such as air defense systems and transport helicoperts, but not equipment particularly suited for use in the Western Sahara. Washington previously sold Morocco F5 fighter aircraft, which have been empolyed recently in the desert war despite an agreement limiting their use to internal defense.
The disputed 105,000-square-mile territory, previously called the Spanish Sahara, was ceded by Spain to Morocco and Mauritania in 1975. But the Polisario Front, which claims to reprsent the territory's 80,000 inhabitants, soon launched a guerrilla war aimed at acquiring independence for the region.
Mauritania, its economy badly hurt by the war, signed a peace agreement with the guerrillas in August, relinsquishing its claim to the southern third of the Western Sahara. Morocco, which had held the northern two-thrids, then extended its claim to the entire territory in a move that made its already overextended forces and supply lines more stretched and vulnerable than ever.
In addition to its phosphate riches, the Western Sahara is believed by some experts to contain oil shale and the world's largest reserves of uranium. Morocco, which already ranks as the world's larges exporter of phosphates, is eager to become a producer of the potentially more valuable energy source.
Alarmed by the intensifying Polisario attacks on Morocco and King Hassan's increasingly precarious domestic position as the war drained his economy, the Carter administration told Congress in July that it wanted to change its policy on arms sales to Morocco. The Seante Foreign Relations Committee approved easing the restrictions by a narrow majority, but did not make clear what specific weapons it would agree could be sold.
In the House, significant opposition to a change in arms sales policy was expressed. Some congressional opponents cited improving relations with Algeria, noting that American firms have won more than $6 billion in contracts there since the early 1970s and that the Algiers government has taken positions opposed to the Soviets on several issues.
Opponents of the proposal to sell Hassan the equipment he wants have said there are other ways to show support for him than to identify the United States with an issue that appears likely to rebound against Wasington in the future and alienate other U.S. friends in Africa.